News Just In: Story Doesn’t Suck!

Well, The Mossy Skull finally finished its rundown for every single story in the Interfictions anthology–a daunting task and I can’t wait to get my contributor’s copy now. The reviews really whetted my appetite, so that makes them pretty effect in my book. And at the end, since my story comes last, is a review of A “Dirge for Prester John.”

Yes! That Prester John stuff I’ve been nattering on about. The seed story for The Spindle of Necessity is in Interfictions, hence if you have any interest in the forthcoming novel, you should already have bought your copy. Hint. Hint.

Anyway, I’m simultaenously amused and complimented (slantwise) by the review. What response other than an arched eyebrow could I grant to the opening lines:

I have to admit I went into this story with a general feeling of dread. I have read Catherynne Valente’s work before…

Awesome. I now have the incredible superpower of inciting dread before readers even get to the first sentence.  He goes on to say that he had gathered the opinion that I am a word-junky and little more, always servicing style over substance. Now, the funny thing is that DPJ is pretty damn straightforward for me, prose-wise. Sometimes I wonder what I’d have to write to avoid being accused of raising style over substance. A lot of what I’ve been writing lately feels embarrassingly quotidian, like I’m no longer hardc0re, betraying The Labyrinth by writing plot.I was reading

a bit of the Palimpsest novel the other day and he laughed quite a bit:

“It’s CMV!” he protested. “Writing normal dialogue! For regular people!”

I bit him, but only a little.

But really, honestly, it’s never style over substance. The substance dictates the style, and I make some pretty funky substance in my basement. That was more or less the theme of the introduction to my first novel. To paraphrase Eliot, since I can’t find the direct quote: consider before you accuse a writer of being deliberately obscure that perhaps there was no other way to express what she wanted to say. (See icon.)

But DeLuca goes on to say that he doesn’t find that to be the case in DPJ, for which I am glad (he does call out my gemstone obsession, to which I say: yep. Notice the birds and flowers, too? But in this case, I used only the substances mentioned in the Letter) and my “erotic” sensibilities, to which I say: I lived in Japan for two years. You are what you eat, when it comes to writing…where eat means to consume in any fashion. I do feel, for what it’s worth, that writing this story last year marked a transition into a different style for me, one I’m still growing into now. No more Labyrinths, not for a long while. Not because I feel it was a failure in any way, or that words are not quite as important to me as before, but because I already wrote that book, and two others very like it, and after The Orphan’s Tales, I’m ready to level up, stretch for something new. Can’t write the same book over and over your whole life…unless you’re name is Murakami, then it seems to work just fine. *hides behind the computer*

So, ultimately, he didn’t hate it at all:

That said, having struggled past her decadent, indulgent prose and nightmarish, erotic imagery, I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a depth of meaning in “A Dirge for Prester John”. I find it has a lot of the same innocently predatory sensibilities of Through the Looking Glass, but with a less tyrannical protagonist, who ends up getting destroyed by his fantasy world, rather than destroying it. And, you know, a little bit of poignant sex between a priest and a lady with no head thrown in for flavor. A medieval holy man, lost in a hellish world of illuminated manuscript marginalia-come-true, finds comfort in the familiarity of ritual. Hell’s fantastic citizens pity him his inflexible worldview while doing their best to accommodate it. And from that perspective — that of an alien culture observing the tragic collapse of the lonely imperialist — the decadent prose really does serve the story’s purpose. It makes the world surrounding John seem even stranger, and allows us to react to his slow adaptation simultaneously with sympathy and disbelief. This story fills me with newfound respect for Catherynne Valente — and I think those of you who shared my original opinion would do well to give it a try.

I have found all the reviews fascinating, and brave, as the author is also in the anthology and we have all gotten so very used to walking on glass to avoid offending our colleagues. Michael is certainly an opinionated reviewer, and his opinions led me, I admit, to dread his review of my story long before he got to it–I suspected he would dislike the style and maybe even the subject, and use many of the terms for “too many words” I am now accustomed to hearing in my reviews. But I too was pleasantly surprised–we have this procession of emotions in common. I’m quite proud that at least in this one piece, I did not manage to drown my own voice out with prose, and changed his mind, just a little. Not bad for a short story.

Wonder what he’ll think of the novel?

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